Rte. 219 Bridge Dedication
A Look at the Vision
By Susan Fitzpatrick Drago
Gerard Fitzpatrick, known everywhere simply as Jess, was a dynamic, public-spirited leader over many years in his hometown of Ellicottville and with wider influence in Cattaraugus County and New York State politics. But to his children he was known as Dad. He instilled in us a deep faith, the importance of education and a need to give back to our community and family.
As co-chairman of the Route 219 Association he lobbied unceasingly to extend this vital North – South artery as a four lane road from Buffalo in the north to the Pennsylvania state line in the south.
Through the efforts of State Senator Cathy Young and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, on Sept. 28, 2017 numerous political leaders, friends and family gathered at Holiday Valley to celebrate and remember a great local leader, friend, mentor and family man.
I was fortunate to have Jess as my father and grew up in beautiful Ellicottville. Besides being a successful businessman and dedicated public servant, Dad had two special passions that came up frequently in conversations – Notre Dame football was one and completing Route 219 was the other. I remember the trip from Ellicottville to Buffalo could take all day, first taking the narrow Route 219 road from Ellicottville to get to Springville then driving the winding road through Boston Valley. Dad was a businessman who regularly sent tractor trailer loads of logs or finished millwork lumber products from the Fitzpatrick & Weller sawmill in Ellicottville through Buffalo on to the Port in Toronto to be shipped to customers throughout the European continent. The time it took to ship his products was unacceptable to Dad. He constantly spoke of the need to have better roads to open up the economies of Ellicottville, Olean and other towns in Cattaraugus County to the US and the world. He also spoke often what improved roads would do for the fledgling tourism industries of the county especially skiing at Holiday Valley and HoliMont in Ellicottville. And we all know how the skiing at the Valley has grown over the past 40 years and can only guess how the roads might have helped in moving skiers and vacation seekers from Buffalo and Canada to Ellicottville.
The Erie County portion of Route 219 extending from Buffalo to Springville has been completed for many years. Now it is time for the Cattaraugus County portion to be completed. I can remember my Dad spreading maps out on the kitchen table discussing pros and cons of alternative routes to bring the road from Springville to the PA State line near Salamanca. There were numerous obstacles to overcome such as the impact on the communities along the proposed routes and the concerns over the impact the road would have on the environment. Dad walked the proposed routes with many engineers and would return to his office and trace new routes on his maps based on where they found wetlands or streams or particularly difficult land formations.
The twin span bridges named in honor of our father represented one of the largest single physical obstacles that the road expansion would face. In order to move 219 south the road swung past Springville and needed to cross the Cattaraugus Creek at Zoar Valley south of Springville. For those that don’t know at this point Zoar Valley is hundreds of feet deep and Dad always knew this would be an engineering challenge. At the same time these new bridges were required, the old Route 219 bridge was inferior and for the safety and convenience of local travel of the north county residents this bridge would also eventually need to be replaced. This project was completed in May 2017. Known as the South Cascade Drive-Miller Road Bridge, this bridge will serve as a connector route, improving access for local motorists and commercial traffic between Springville and the towns immediately north and south of the bridge.
Dad would be honored and humbled with this memorial. He would be proud to know that after all the years of study and talk that the “new part” of the road stretching from Springville to Ashford is done. And through hard work Senator Cathy Young has secured a commitment from New York State Department of Transportation to commence once again the environmental study necessary to restart work on U.S. Route 219. The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Route 219 was included in the State’s five-year transportation capital plan. DOT is currently developing the study’s scope of work with the Federal Highway Administration. We, his family, are deeply honored that these two key bridges now bear his name and will be a vivid reminder of a worthy legacy of tireless dedication and public service. We hope someday to be able to drive on four lane highways from Buffalo to Salamanca.